Cover up: don't get burnt by fireworks

Skimp on home insurance and you'll be remembering the fifth of November for all the wrong reasons, warns Sam Dunn
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The Independent Online

Count yourself lucky if you have yet to flinch at explosions outside your window or miniature rockets whizzing over your head - the firework parties have already begun around Britain.

Count yourself lucky if you have yet to flinch at explosions outside your window or miniature rockets whizzing over your head - the firework parties have already begun around Britain.

During the next few days, thousands of boxes of Roman candles, bangers and rockets will be let off in gardens and streets around the country to celebrate 5 November, Guy Fawkes Night.

But behind the pyrotechnics and the blazing bonfires lies a serious risk of injury to yourself, other people and pets, as well as damage to your own home or your neighbours' property.

Figures released by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) reveal that 1,017 people suffered injuries from fireworks in the four weeks around Bonfire Night last year. In many cases, accidents happened during bonfire parties in people's gardens.

Rogue fireworks can cause thousands of pounds worth of damage to property, too, smashing windows, breaking roof tiles and starting fires in garden sheds and even in homes. If you are not insured against this kind of damage, you could find yourself having to foot the bill for repairs. So to make sure Bonfire Night doesn't end up burning a hole in your pocket, check that your home is adequately covered.

Most household insurance policies will pay out for damage from fireworks set off at a party several streets away, says Greg Dawson, spokes-man for Churchill insurance. This means your home will be protected against, say, a rocket crashing into your conservatory or a fire starting on your property as a result of sparks from your neighbour's bonfire.

However, it is essential to check both parts of your policy - contents and buildings insurance - with your provider to ensure you are fully covered. In particular, check whether damage to greenhouses, sheds, fencing and ornaments in your garden is included; it should normally fall within your home's buildings cover.

Churchill's standard buildings insurance pays out up to £250,000 for structural damage, and up to £35,000 for individual items damaged by fire. Compensation will vary according to the individual policy, so make sure you have enough cover.

If you plan to celebrate with a bonfire party and fireworks in your garden, watch out for personal injury claims. The rise of the compensation culture, in which people are prepared to sue even their friends and colleagues, has made liability cover a sensible precaution in recent years. Most good home insurance policies include cover up to at least £1m, says Mr Dawson; this should kick in if, say, one of your fireworks damages your neighbour's roof or car.

If you intend to invite a large number of guests to a private party, it's a good idea to contact your insurer to make sure you are still covered in the event of an accident. If you are turning your bonfire and fireworks party into a money-raising evening, perhaps with an entry fee, you should take out specialist insurance for the night. Any event that involves a commercial element will not be covered on your household insurance.

Insurex Expo-Sure is one of only a few companies in the UK that specialise in insuring firework displays; charges start at £255 for liability cover of up to £1m where up to 250 people are attending.

Paul James, claims director for Insurex Expo-Sure, warns that this year, fireworks could be particularly dangerous because of recent weather conditions: "We've had just a day of rain, really - the ground is as dry as anything. If we were to have a dry day on the main fireworks night, there is a considerable risk of fire spreading."

Safety fears and the increased threat of litigation arising from injuries to the public have dampened the popularity of organised bonfire parties in the past few years. Premiums for liability have soared, according to research from insurance broker Budget Insurance Services.

If you plan to attend a firework display rather than holding your own party, choose a large, professionally organised event that will have specialist insurance cover. But of course, whether you are going out for the evening or staying at home, the best way to protect yourself - and your insurance premiums - is to follow safety precautions.

Rospa's guidelines place a strong emphasis on the safe handling of fireworks, which should be stored in a closed box. When igniting fireworks, stand well away from other people and never go back to a lighted firework if it fails to go off.

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